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TV show 'Catfish' focuses on fake Internet relationships

By CNN Staff
January 17, 2013 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Max Joseph, left, and Nev Schulman from the MTV television show
Max Joseph, left, and Nev Schulman from the MTV television show "Catfish," which looks at online relationships.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alleged hoax on Manti Te'o is compared with the documentary "Catfish"
  • Catfish defined: "to pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information"
  • MTV show of the same name uncovers possible fake relationships

(CNN) -- Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick compared the alleged hoax about a "girlfriend" that ensnared linebacker Manti Te'o with the documentary "Catfish."

"Catfish" is no longer simply a river dweller, but rather a verb defined as "to pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you," according to the MTV show of the same name.

The show grew from the documentary in which filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman follow Ariel's brother Nev and his budding online relationship with "Megan," according to the website Iamrogue.com. The three started to suspect that something wasn't quite right with Megan, and they set out to solve the mystery, capturing everything on film. The documentary was a hit at the 2010 Sundance film festival, Iamrogue says.

On the TV show, Nev Schulman, a photographer, guides others who suspect that their online loves are not what they seem.

"So someone will reach out to me and say, 'I'm really into this guy, we've been talking online for months. He lives far away, we can't afford to meet but we definitely want to, I think he is the one. Can you help?'" Nev Schulman said in an interview with Iamrogue.

"Will they find love or heartache?" the show's introduction asks.

In one episode, "Tyler" wants to meet "Amanda" after months of corresponding via Facebook. Amanda always has an excuse for not meeting or talking, such as not having a cell phone or having a broken webcam. Suspicious, Tyler writes to Schulman.

Through a reverse photo search, Schulman discovers that Amanda's pictures belong to someone else.

Schulman follows the trail and finds that "Amanda" is really Aaron, who is having trouble coming to terms with being gay.

"For many people the life that they lead on the Internet, which can be exciting, interesting, and can be filled with hopes and dreams that are perhaps outside of the actual range of their situation, is a big distraction and keeps them from living their real lives," Schulman said in the Iamrogue interview.

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